“She came to him towards morning. She entered very carefully, moving silently, floating through the chamber like a phantom; the only sound was that of her mantle brushing her naked skin.”
The Witcher: Where it all began.
The Last Wish is Andrzej Sapkowski’s second novel. Originally published in Polish in 1993, it was later translated into English in 2007. The first in the Witcher saga, it’s comprised of several short stories.
Each tale is in the form of a flashback as Geralt of Rivia recovers in a temple. He explains how he met Yennefer, why he’s known as the Butcher of Blaviken, and the origin of the Child Surprise.
The book follows Geralt of Rivia as he recovers from battle wounds. During his time in the temple, he recalls major events in his life. The King of Temeria offers a reward to anyone who can save his cursed daughter, and Geralt agrees to take the case, spending the night in the abandoned palace that trapped the young girl. An old acquaintance begs Geralt to save him from a group of assassins, and the resulting battle leaves him with the infamous title ‘the Butcher of Blaviken’. The Witcher also recalls the events that led to the start of his strange relationship with Ciri. There are elves, sylvans, and genies before finally, Geralt reveals the story behind the book’s namesake, how his and Yennefer’s destinies became forever intertwined.
- It’s unique. It’s rare to find a fantasy series today that isn’t a rewrite of Lord of the Rings in some way, shape or form. Not with the Witcher Saga. Sapkowski’s setting is based on Slavic mythology and eastern European countries instead of make-believe worlds. Geralt of Rivia is a professional mutant, monster hunter, and swordsman who travels from town to town saying very little and spilling a lot of blood. There is also the appropriate amount of gore, filth, and sex that the medieval ages are known for. Beat that, Tolkien.
- It’s the perfect gateway into this far-from-perfect world. The Last Wish gives readers a glimpse into the Witcher’s life before the infamous Ciri became a crucial part of it. It’s the ultimate prequel that should be book-number-one on every fantasy lover’s TBR list. Geralt and Yennefer’s backstory is finally revealed, as well as how the Child Surprise came to be, all told through quick easy-to-read short stories.
- The magical creatures are original and interesting and exciting. The more familiar djinns and nymphs exist, but also chimeras, leshys, and kikimoras. The monsters are just as developed as the characters, i.e. incredibly. People are rude, people are cruel, and people are disgusting. There’s no sugar coating of any living thing in this novel and its glorious.
- Because this isn’t a full novel, it can be difficult to jump from short story to short story. Especially since the stories don’t go in chronological order, instead, jumping from the near-past to the far-past and back again. It’s confusing at times and for those who don’t enjoy short stories, it’s off-putting.
- It’s a misogynistic world. While some of this can be related to the time era; approximately medieval-ish, some of it is as a result of choices made by the author. Women are objects, solely existing for male pleasure. Every female character who speaks out against this is labelled a villain. In fact, the main female character herself is ‘evil’ because she refuses to bow down to men in power. She’s a ‘strong independent woman’ but instead of being seen as a powerful sorcerer, she’s still treated as nothing more than eye candy for the male characters.
- Some of the short stories are replicas of old-fashioned fairy tales. We have Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White to name but a few. Yes, Sapkowski puts a new spin on them with his own ideas and mythical creatures, but if you break down each plot to its most basic level, then they’re identical. It becomes predictable once you realise this (sorry in advance!) and eventually the short stories lose some of the magic.
Overall, I’d give Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Last Wish a five out of five. It’s a brilliant collection of intrigueing stories that introduce the world of the Witcher naturally yet quickly.
I’d recommend this novel to any fantasy fan, as well as anyone who enjoys the Witcher games or Netflix TV show. It’s original and entertaining and a pleasant change from most fantasy series.
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